NJ Police Create Facebook Perp Walk
Here's another one for the "bound to happen eventually" file: It seems police in the town of Evesham, N.J., have begun posting mug shots on the police department's Facebook profile, in a move that is basically designed to publicly shame miscreants ranging from drunk drivers to car thieves and worse. Equally predictable is the wave of criticism this has elicited. Some of these are good points, but I think there is a way to post photos without hurting anyone unjustly.
First of all, lawbreakers forfeit some (though not all) of their privacy in breaking the law. While the right to privacy still protects important information like their social security numbers and health histories, it does not cover their basic identity -- meaning their name, address, and likeness. Police stations and courts are public places, so the very act of being arrested and hauled in front of a judge reveals their identity to anyone who cares to inquire. Furthermore, public shaming of transgressors is an established practice -- many local newspapers already feature a "Police Blotter." If it happens that online social media is a more effective medium for shaming the transgressor by reaching a larger public audience, well, all the better, right?
The only problem I can see with this approach is the potential for posting a mug shot of someone who was wrongly arrested -- but frankly that is a pretty big problem. It's easy enough to figure out whether someone has been driving under the influence, but what about cases where a person is falsely accused of a serious crime to tarnish their reputation? And of course police also make honest mistakes (e.g., Buffalo police arresting the wrong suspect in the shooting which left four people dead last week).
In light of these facts, it seems inappropriate to indiscriminately post arrest photos -- as the Evesham police appear to be doing -- as it goes against the spirit of the rule that suspects should be considered "innocent until proven guilty." A safer approach might be to post mug shots once the suspect has confessed or been convicted of the crime, or at least waiting until they have been charged.
So what about law enforcement posting "wanted" photos of suspects on social media sites? This strikes me as a qualitatively different from what the Evesham police are doing. A fugitive at large could inflict further harm on the public, and in my view this outweighs any concern over damage to his or her reputation if he/she should happen to be innocent. By contrast, a mug shot depicts someone who is already in custody, meaning there is no immediate utility in posting it for all to see.